Sunday, February 24, 2013

Stair-Master Challenge

My one year old is learning to go down the stairs by himself. He mastered going up a long time ago. At first, going down was a little scary for him, so he was cautious. Now, it's a game. He is not sure if he wants to go up or down every time he is on them. But he is very sure that he doesn't want my help.

I am sure that I do not want him to fall. Our stairs are not yet carpeted, so a spill down the wood stairs is especially dangerous. I stay a few steps down from him, encouraging and spotting him. I remind him to climb down on his belly, since he has more control. I anticipate any slipping.

I am happy that he is learning this new skill - my back can use a break! But I am not thrilled about how much time his practicing is taking these days. And inevitably, he starts to play a game when the phone is ringing downstairs and my older son is calling for me.

As I resigned myself to being patient on the stairs the other day, I thought about how God sometimes waits for us. Sometimes we are well aware of something that God is calling us to do, whether it is to learn a new skill, follow through on a particular commitment, or begin an endeavour (like writing this blog is for me). God encourages us by reminding us at poignant moments of his call, but it is easy in the everyday rush to put it off - or even play games ourselves.

The staircase is a metaphor for God's calling. It might be challenging, it might take some practice, but making the journey takes us someplace different and someplace better. My son doesn't know that on this particular occasion, I am taking him to his favorite gym class once he climbs down.  Following through for us can bring its own blessing.

Being a Mom isn't just about teaching our children; it's about growing ourselves. But by taking the time to follow through on who we are called to be, we are modeling for our children. We are showing them that there is something to be excited about in the world, and we allow ourselves to be children of our big God, who has his own surprises in store - for us.

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for calling us as individuals and mothers.  Grow us in our ability to discern your voice and follow it.  We thank you in advance for the surprises you have in store.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunrises and Wristwatches

I used to love those mornings pre-k (before kids) when I could wake up slowly in bed.  I would allow my eyes to open gradually, savor the warmth of the covers and enjoy an easy stretch.  As I contemplated the day before me, I would say a prayer and begin the day intentionally. 

Sleep deprivation keeps me from those moments now, with toddlers who have their own internal alarm clocks!  Mornings tend to be particularly hectic getting ready to get out the door.  I marvel at how God can still break through the rush and remind me to begin the day intentionally. 

Whether I am helping one of my sons get dressed, rinsing off breakfast dishes or wrangling the kids for coats, I glance outside.  Sunrises can be so inspiring.  As I look at the colors filling the immense sky, I am reminded of a God who is much bigger than my worries and who created a world with beauty to enjoy - beauty that can sometimes bring us to our knees.

God indeed is our light.  Our Creator can pierce our consciousness with splendor through the wonders of creation, and our Lord Jesus can serve as a light to us in any darkness.  I recently read a Lenten devotion that reflects the power of Jesus' light.  It was written by Associate Pastor Ian Rankine, who serves at the church where I am Parish Associate.

His devotion reads:

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:4
I have four small children, and there are times at night when someone cries and I have to get up out of bed and stumble through the dark to see what is going on. In the bedrooms, with their room darkening blinds, there are times when the darkness is palpable. So dark in fact, that although I can hear the crying, I have no idea which way up the child is lying in the bed.
I have a wristwatch that has a little light on it. When I push the light button on my watch, even as dim as that light is, it gives me just enough light to see by to find out what is going on with the little one.
It is truly the dimmest of lights, but when it is on, the darkness is cast aside.
Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.” He is “The Light of all mankind.”
If even a tiny light on a wristwatch can dispel the darkness around it, consider the power and extent of the brightness of this One who is the Light of the World.
Whatever darkness you may find yourself in, or whatever darkness may be inside you, it cannot overcome the light of Christ.
What a powerful message.  I appreciate Ian's moment of fatherly tenderness. The image of a faint watch light will stick with me. I can relate to it, as my oldest son loves Timex Indiglo watches and faithfully wears one. He loves the security of a light that never leaves him. Now I can look at his wrist too for a reminder of God's glory.

Prayer:  Dear God, thank you for your light in the world.  Thank you that you are always available to us - to refuel us, cleanse us, and help us cast our worries and fears aside.  We celebrate your faithfulness and ask that we might know your Light more.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tiger Mom

Last week I blogged about an article that compared French and American parenting styles.  I have since learned about another Wall Street Journal article that compares Chinese and American ones.  This one is even more controversial.  Because I enjoy reading and reflecting on motherhood, I invite you to join me in exploring the topic this week.

From the looks of it, author Amy Chua set off quite a debate in her article, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," which is an excerpt from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  She begins her article with an extensive list of several things that her children have never been able to do, which includes: Have a playdate, watch TV or play computer games, get any grade less than an A, and not play the piano or violin.  Her approach reflects a shocking strictness.

This strictness manifests itself in three primary ways that she believes distinguishes Chinese parents.  First, Chinese parents are not concerned with their children's self-esteem.  They are comfortable employing harsh strategies in order to produce achievement.  Self-esteem is the result of children's joy at excelling, not parental coddling.  Second, Chinese parents believe their children are indebted to them.  Parents sacrifice for their children and should be comfortable even being hated in an effort to inspire success; children in turn owe their parents obedience and the desire to make their parents proud.  Third, "Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences."

This model is certainly different from mainstream American parenting.  Chua recognizes this in her concluding paragraph, which paints the picture well:  "Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment.  By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away."  Chua acknowledges that we all want what is best for our children; we can just have very different ideas about what that is and styles in how to attain it.

No doubt there are many accomplished Chinese children, and the country itself is a major global player.  I appreciate Chua's transparency with respect to the culture and certainly admire achievement, but I have numerous reservations.  No doubt rigorous practice will produce results.  I wonder how fulfilling those results are, however, when it is in a discipline that the child does not preference.  One can appreciate praise and acquire a certain amount of self-esteem from it, but it would feel rather hallow in the absence of passion.  Instead, I purpose that true success is a confluence of passion, talent, hard work, and being willing to think outside of the lines. 

I also wonder how children can build self-esteem when their parent always knows better?  This actually places a great burden on the parent.  An amazing gift we have as Christian mothers is that we do not have to have all of the answers.  When we teach our children about God and God's love, we introduce them to a perfect heavenly parent who will be there when we inevitably fall short or one day are not around. 

The most important tasks we have as mothers, other than teaching our children about God, is to make sure our children know our love and fan their God given passions.  God has given each of us a special purpose, and we are to provide every tool we can to our children to help them discover their purpose, nurture its development, and send them out into the world.

I guess the difference comes down to how one defines success - is it worldly standards where the "A" means everything, or something more?  I do not think Americans, or parents in general for that matter, fall short if they answer this question a different way.  I seek to enjoy life, celebrate each moment, pursue excellence, and most importantly live in response to God's call.  My children will be winners if they do the same.

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for creating children and dwelling in their heart.  Grant me discernment in my measure of success and the needs of my children.  Guide me as I shape my children in the way that they should go - the way that honors you.  In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Jesus said, "But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33, NRSV).

To read Amy Chua's article, click here:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Patience, Anyone?

Moms, In the spirit of this week's reflection, "French Musings," I wanted to pass along a couple of related articles on patience.  That seemed to be something that French parents fostered, but that doesn't sound easy.  This past week my older son turned four.  For his birthday, we bought him his first bike with training wheels.  We went to the store so that he could test drive the options and pick one out, but we insisted that he wait a full week until his birthday to ride it once we got home.  We called it an exercise in patience.  He called it torture!

Here is an article with six practical tips on how we can foster patience in our children:

Here is a brief blog entry about how we can foster patience in our own lives:

To read my reflection referenced above, click here:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

French Musings

"A person's wisdom yields patience..." (Proverbs 19:11, NIV).

I reread an article about French verses American parenting recently.  Apparently, French parenting embodies a certain mystic that has propelled it to the fore in the American child rearing debate.  As a hot topic in The Wall Street Journal, I was curious to weigh in on the subject.  Who doesn't love a good debate?

The article is an adaptation from the book, Bringing Up Bebe.  Author Pamela Druckerman summarizes her book and includes some interesting vignettes in the article.  As an American Mom who has lived in France, she is intent on parsing out the cultural differences in parenting styles after being impressed.

Keeping in mind that the differences she notes are generalizations, we learn that they include the fact that French parents cultivate patience in their children, they encourage their children to spend time playing by themselves, and they say no with authority.

These are growing edges in American parenting she posits, for American children are subject to a culture of instant gratification.  American parents do not intentionally cultivate patience as a skill and can sometimes live in constant service to their children's demands.  A natural extension of this is a lack of firm parental boundaries.

What transpires is a fast-paced society of constant demands that is draining, and a parenting problem that has been termed "overparenting, hyperparenting, helicopter parenting, and...kindergarchy" according to Druckerman.  Parents are tired and children are prone to crack under stress because of a low threshold.

Whether or not you agree with her article, I found a couple of points worth taking away.  First, I do believe there is a high baseline of anxiety in our global consumerist culture.  Although I do not think this is limited to America, it is important to teach patience to our children.  Delayed gratification has many resonances in a life of faith as we look critically at what desire we are looking to satiate.

Further, I appreciate Druckerman's echo of French parents' desire to carve out adult time away from their children.  Time to connect with our spouses or other primary support relationships is foundational to our own healthy functioning.  And this includes time to nurture our relationship with Christ.  Protecting it takes intentionality and the ability to sometimes say "no."

Prayer:  Dear God, Grant me your wisdom and a heart to think critically in our culture, so that I can continue to grow as a mother and draw closer to you.  Help me as I seek to establish balance in my family and cultivate spiritual virtues.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

You can read the article, "Why French Parents Are Superior," in The Wall Street Journal by clicking here:

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